PEGBRJE: Micro Mages and Social Justice Warriors
Micro Mages is a co-op platformer by Morphcat Games, and stop me if you’ve heard this one: small colourful characters infiltrate a castle to platform their way to save their princess. Fairly stereotypical trope for the predecessors of modern gaming, yet an effective one at that. Saving the princess from an evil is a tale as old as time, with some of the most iconic video games utilizing it to create a dynasty — Mario, Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy (to some degree), and dozens more that I’m not listing for the sake of brevity. All of these titles have made their mark on gaming history with a basic premise that, while still exists today, is usually subverted and explored in different and unique ways to avoid becoming stale. Micro Mages, upon first glance, appears to be a game from the ‘olden days’ of gaming that was simply forgotten about. The soundtrack is simple, the graphics are pixeled and the gameplay is reminiscent of the NES. Except, this game came out in 2019, and has an NES cartridge.
The best way to describe myself was confused. I never grew up playing the NES, so I cannot say how much of this game triggered any form of nostalgia. Yet this game felt profoundly 80s in its execution and gameplay style. Characters only have a certain amount of lives, and death sends you back to the beginning of the level to start again from scratch. Powerups are littered throughout the map, assisting in your platforming or giving you a damage-soaking shield. Gems are hidden in boxes to gain points, but the points don’t really do anything and are only displayed at the beginning of each area. Many games attempting to invoke the ‘retro’ feeling, such as Axiom Verge, utilize the best aspects of the genre while attempting to update it with more modern and tested gameplay tactics and interfaces. Micro Mages does not do this. The power ups do not tell you anything about them when you pick them up, and it’s only via trial and error that their importance is discovered. It is then that I realized one key factor that I was missing: this game was made for the NES.
To better understand this, I must first explain a little. For those unaware, NES games could not exceed 40 KBs. There wasn’t enough hardware at the time of the NES inception to make a game any larger until better mapping was introduced later on. So all famous titles from that era were equal to or less than the word document that I wrote this in originally. Limited space required innovation to fit every element and level, and many design decisions were made around this limitation — can’t have proper UI or the space would get exceeded, so we need to make sure the power ups are extremely unique looking. Sound track? Better only have 2 channels, can’t afford to have any more, so better have them carry the tune and fit with the level aesthetic perfectly.
It is precisely this limitation that makes Micro Mages feel as if it was released in a bygone era. It’s extremely hard to capture the feeling of limitation when we in our current age have destroyed the hardware cap roof and shot for the stars. By forcing themselves to launch a title on an NES cartridge, you retain the constraints that coloured the past generations of console games while bringing your new flavour to it. If you wish to know more about Micro Mages, watch the video above where they explain more about the efficiencies created to keep the game under 40 KBs. It’s informative, interesting, and can really help one appreciate all of the thought processes behind something we can easily take for granted nowadays.
If you’re looking for a game that can itch that nostalgic scratch for 80s platformers with a co-op twist, this is the game for you. It’s sweet, simple, and to the point. It doesn’t have the space to be anything else.
And now, for something completely different, my favourite type of humour: satire.
Social Justice Warriors is a ‘narrative’ RPG-esque satire game made by Nonadecimal, an indie studio specializing in narrative styled games. You take the roll of… well, yourself really, as you fight against internet trolls in the only way possible: anonymous discourse. You begin by picking one of four flavours of warrior, but in reality they all have the same 4 moves just styled differently. The game is quite simple in its approach to handing combat, with each side having a bar representing their patience and their internet reputation. When one of these bars depletes, that person loses the internet debate and punches their monitor out, as rational human beings do constantly. In between rounds of combat, there is a chance that a social master may appear, such as the druid, to either assist or harm your quest to vanquish as many trolls as possible.
To put simply, this is a game completely dedicated to making fun of internet discussion culture while also educating on actual argument structure. You can hurt your own reputation to attack their reputation with scathing insight, or attempt to educate the troll with facts to only have them ignore it completely. Nothing works 100% of the time leading to accidental mishaps like ruining your own reputation only for theirs to not budge at all. The social druid and other social warriors that appear are just representations of other people joining in on the debate and can have varying results depending on your own choices. One of the most damning I saw was answering that a person’s ability to change their opinion was the best quality to have, and the druid maxed out the troll’s patience and said ‘now you have the time to convince them’. It was then that I lost my run as the intelligent troll slowly whittled away at my reputation using bizarre arguments as I went down in flames.
Satire works best when it not only mirrors our real world, but also takes the opportunity to educate if possible. In Social Justice Warriors, every attack made by the trolls is accompanied by its informal fallacy: that is to say, the attack name is the formal name for an argument tactic that is considered informal. Such tactics are used in arguments all the time but are rarely called out for their inaccuracies to the argument itself, such as how an ad hominem is avoiding the points made in favour of attacking the person making the point instead. There are dozens of these informal fallacies that are utilized within SJW, and they all are followed by argument statements that we’ve seen time and time again online either on Facebook, Twitter, or random forum threads.
That is the strength and glory of Social Justice Warriors. It gamifies and satirizes how an internet conversation can feel more like a turn-based RPG battle due to the response time and how outlandish the arguments can be. You can try your best to fight them off, but eventually we all meet the same fate of destruction. The troll horde is neverending, vast and always ready with bizarre analogies and ‘hot takes’ that are really just crude and ill informed, and one can only fight for so long. There are no breaks in Social Justice Warriors, however, and eventually you will fall. How long can you survive in the barbaric wastelands of the internet?
If you are a fan of satire and internet culture/debates, this game is easily a must try. It is short, and the arguments do have a habit of repeating at times, but the variance in random encounters plus the jokes alone are worth the multiple playthroughs.
Links as always are given here.
native PC version (Windows) - NES ROM, playable on a variety of platforms via emulation Micro Mages is a platform game…